Know your enemy.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(Thanks to our lovely web designer Anne Emberline we can now add audio players to our blogs.
I may just have to start every blog with a Rage clip.)

Not too long ago I attended one of the Occupy Toronto marches with my good friend who is currently attending grad school at the Munk School for Global Affairs at U of Toronto.  When she remembered she was wearing a backpack sporting an emblem of the program we speculated at how long it would be before someone made a remark.  Peter Munk, the $50.9 million dollar funding namesake of the school, is pretty much the epitome of the 1%.   He is the chairman and founder of the mining company Barrick Gold – the world’s largest gold mining corporation. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the company has a shady record when it comes to human rights and environmental impacts. Sure enough two middle-aged women came up to my friend during the march and asked her if she knew about Peter Munk’s legacy. After a polite disagreement on whether Munk has any sway over course content the women walked on ahead. This in itself is not what was significant ― certainly we need to question massive corporate and private donations to our education centres.  What was significant is that as the women walked away we noticed that one of them was wearing red Olympic mittens.

Scarier to me than Peter Munk is the International Olympic Committee. Scarier still is that these women, devoted to their anti-corporate politics, were advertising for possibly the biggest of them all. The IOC is able to do this because it has a massive bullet proof get-out-of-jail-free card due to the marketing genius of the ‘purity of sport.’ That being said this isn’t the first time The F Word (or others) have remarked on the Olympics immunity to critique:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(A short clip from a June ’11 show - mostly included to hear me flub both a common saying and the name of a popular Olympic mascot)

I owe much of my exposure to the horrendous account of IOC history to two sport journalists: Laura Robinson and Dave Zirin. Zirin’s book Welcome To The Terrordome: the pain, politics, and promise of sports chronicles some of the major players in IOC. Here you can learn the twisted tale of Avery “Slavery” Brundage (president of the IOC from 1952-1972). When he was president of the US Olympic Committee he was instrumental in ensuring that the US did not boycott the 1936 Olympics in then Nazi Germany. Zirin reports that Brundage was even, “expelled from the right-wing anti-World War II America First Committee because of his endless love of all things Hitler.”

Remember this photo?

John Carlos, Tommie Smith, and Australian sprinter Peter Norman were supporters of the Olympic Project for Human Rights―a group rightfully concerned about racism in sport and the inclusion of apartheid South Africa in 1968 Olympics in Mexico (the inclusion that Brundage strongly advocated for). Zirin reports that the African-American athletes actually brought the black gloves in case they were forced to shake hands with Brundage at the medaling ceremony.

Maybe Brundage is just a gargantuan bad apple in the basket? Far from it as you can see in Laura Robinson’s enlightening article published last year. Since this is a blog post and not an endless essay I’ll give you a point form summary of some of the people we’re talking about:

- Juan Antonio Samaranch (president of the IOC from 1980 to 2001) → proud supporter of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

- General Lassana Palenfo (current member of the IOC Women and Sport Commission) → Former head of Ivory Coast’s PC Crise—or Crisis Patrol—which “was a kind of death squad like the Gestapo.”He was sprung from Ivory Coast prison in 2000 by an envoy sent by the IOC.

- Major General Francis Nyangweso (once member of IOC Commission for Culture and Olympic Education) → former military commander under Idi Amin in Uganda

- Sepp Blatter (IOC member since 1999 – current president of FIFA) → To quote a recent episode of the satirical podcast The Bugle, “We have lost some of the most excentric leaders around this year—Gaddafi, Berlusconi, Osama Bin Laden—but it’s easy not to miss any of them when they’re all embodied in Sepp Blatter.”

- Dick Pound (yes, that’s his real name). Member of the IOC since 1978. → This canuck might be a more familiar name. On the one hand he is credited to be a top advocate in ending doping in the Games. On the other hand you may remember his statement that Canada was a land inhabited by “savages” 400 years ago. The statement that Margaret Wente was quick to defend. Pound has also played an integral role in IOC’s brilliantly manipulative marketing strategies. He first came to my attention during the debates on whether women’s ski jumping should be allowed in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  Click below to hear Laura Robinson summarizing the ski jumping case.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Basically what this case demonstrated (again) is that the IOC has unlimited control over anything Olympic related. Doesn’t matter if their decision directly conflicts with the equality laws of the host country. Dick Pound expresses this arbitrarily exercised power during an interview in response to the lawsuit brought by the women ski jumpers, “The IOC in a very predictable human reaction might say, oh yeah, I remember them, they’re the ones that embarrassed us and caused a lot of trouble in Vancouver. Maybe they should wait another 4 years or 8 years or whatever it may be.”

As Laura Robinson said in this Toronto Star article: “There is no rhyme or reason for any of this. Powerful men who answer to no one decide whether women can participate.”

So, when I heard that pole dancing—excuse me—vertical dancing is being heavily petitioned to get into the 2012 Olympics I didn’t automatically presume that it would never happen due to “official” IOC selection criteria. They have some reasonable criteria such as having a strong base of athletes at the international level. Albeit criteria that is only used when it serves the IOC’s interest.

That interest is money and power and if pole dancing fits into that scenario than you better believe the IOC will find a way to justify its inclusion. And, what if the International Amateur Boxing Association does order its female boxers to wear skirts during competition? Think the IOC would jump in and crush such an obviously sexist rule? Or would they just sit back and smile. Okay, maybe not all of them – after all there are 18 women members out of 112.

Meanwhile the IOC solidifies its international facade of peacekeeper and bringer of joy and love and happiness by co-hosting events such as the International Forum on Sport, Peace and Development with the United Nations.

This isn’t even mentioning environmental impacts of the Games (except luge tracks…they are super practical…every country should have one) or the disgusting legacy of ‘sex testing.’

All I’m saying, for the love of sport (and I have big love for sport), that we keep talking about this. A lot. Because I don’t want to continue to see something I love be manipulated for the supreme authority of a few.

Tags: ,

4 Comments on “Know your enemy.”

  • Great post! :)

  • marv wheale

    While I applaud your critique of the sexism and corruption in international sports governing bodies I have a more foundational appraisal of competitive athletics.

    I have learned from feminists that an inquiry into sport is not satisfied with women mimicing male preconceptions. It finds ritualized violence alien and dangerous as well as faintly ridiculous. Neither does it accept the vicarious, subordinate and pre-scripted role of cheerleader which is demeaning and absurd, nor some of the other feminine physical pursuits left to women i.e. exercising for the purpose of being attractive to men. Instead feminism strives to transform the antagonistic meaning of athletics and the ideology that has constrained and restricted women by defining them as the weaker sex. Men have also been harmed and stifled in the gender role of masculinity but still hold power over women as a social group. Feminsm endeavours to change this too (see Black Tights: Women, Sports and Sexuality, by Laura Robinson).

    These notions are antithetical to feminity proponents which assume women’s bodies are things to be looked at. In other words, feminist athletics allows women to reclaim their bodies as a way of being themselves instead of a form of appearance to stereotyped images of femaleness. It instills a sense of self-ownership of their bodies, not instruments to communicate sexual availability. For men, these new insights can teach them to care for their bodies as equal to women’s bodies and not as a means to dominate women or other men.

    Nevertheless feminism (as a movement) tends to not challenge the obsession our society has with contests (please correct me if I am wrong cause I ofen am). Feminism seems to be ambivalent about the infatuation we have with winning and keeping score. From what I term as an egalitarian standpoint, sports for men and women have been primarily shaped according to male standards even though women’s sports have not been as violent and sexually degrading as men’s. For egalitarians the purpose of athletics is that it is integral to becoming an educated, enlightened, healthy and socially just person. It values true self-awareness, pleasure in motion, cooperation (not the male bond), physical self-respect, self-possession, an overall sense of well-being and fun. It surpasses the shallow point of view that we have to beat someone at something as a source of meaning in our lives. We find satisfaction in our bodies as acting vigorously as opposed to acting upon others or being acted upon by others. Furthermore equality games embrace those women and men, girls and boys, disabilities and people of size who don’t fit into the competitive mould. This approach also affirms those who have chosen to opt out of sports not because they couldn’t make the cut but because of their rejection of the masculine ideal. When the focus is on mental and physical health and joy, and not victory over rivals nor gracious defeat, everyone is valued equally for their unique abilities.

    A vision of sport that is critical of rivalry, femininity and masculinity under male dominion cultivates the hope of a new social reality and identity that is bound up with none of them. It is a new standard that could assist in transforming females and males into equal human beings as a substitute for the social fabrications of women and men, girls and boys, winners and losers. It is a lot more empowering than playing with the boys or allowing the boys to play (prey) on the girls or competing period. Quite simply it is a matter of choosing elegance, mindfulness and equality over vulgarity, mindlessness and oppression.

  • I’d be interested to see if there will be any male athletes pole dancing…And if they will be televised. My guess? Not a chance.

  • Bonnie

    This is a really good post. BTW, the women’s competitive sport of beach volleyball has always puzzled me. I admire the athleticism, but why do they have to wear bikinis? The swimmers & divers wear regular “bathing suits,” in my old-fashioned terminology. Why the bikinis? Oh,wait. You don’t have to tell me.

Leave a Comment

Blog Categories


The purpose of the blog is to create dialogue and debate around current issues related to women, feminism, and social justice.
We enjoy active participation in the blog, however, we reserve the discretion to remove any comments that are threatening or promote hate speech.

Search This Blog:

Site by Anne Emberline